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Slimmest desktop operating system
Apr 22, 2006 01:01 PM 2253 Views
(Updated Apr 22, 2006 01:05 PM)

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Dear reader,

Normally only Martians use OpenBSD. I happen to be one.

I have been using OpenBSD for around 3 years now. I am a cryptographer and I wanted to implement IPsec in the Nucleus OS. At that time I was evaluating various open source IPsec code available. I saw the implementation from OpenBSD and took and instant liking to it. In the course of that work I got to learn a great deal about the OpenBSD kernel implementation. By the time I finished the project OpenBSD's coding standards and technical excellence had already made a permanent impression in my mind.

It is the only operating system that comes with IPsec enabled out of the box. You only have to set two sysctl variables and with simple shell commands your IPsec tunnel is up in a matter of minutes.

The way I look at it OpenBSD is not only about IPsec or not even only security. Because nearly every innovation in cryptography that happens in OpenBSD is instantly absorbed all other free operting systems, linux included. OpenSSH being the most popular OpenBSD project.

Most people don't know the contribution made by OpenBSD to technology because the moment they develop a tool for their OS it is instantly reflected into some other operating system and people instantly forget the pedigree of the program. Thus OpenBSD continues to be an unknown giant and also an elitist operating system.

Now partly this is because of the kind of people who are behind OpenBSD. It is a benevolent dictatorship by Theo de Raadt who is based in Canada. And only a handful of dedicated developers code for OpenBSD.

This is precisely what makes it so great. When you have only a bunch of carefully chosen people do a project then invariably that project becomes a success. It is only when too many people come in when things get difficult to manage.

Now, Theo is notorious for his strong views and uncompromising nature. But according to me he is strongly in favor or meritocracy and nothing can stop him from supporting you if you are really brilliant and hard working.

With all the merits of the open source community I still feel becoming an OpenBSD developer is the fastest way to technical stardom because there is the least amount of politics here. You can shine based on pure technical merit alone. Nobody cares whether you are a student, what your age is, what your race is and so on.

In fact non Americans have an advantage here because cryptography is regulated by US laws. So I think becoming an OpenBSD developer is the acid test of your networking and cryptographic genius.

In terms of quality of code I think OpenBSD stands tall among operating systems. At the same time that is not enough unfortunately. You need to focus on other things as well. That is where OpenBSD falls flat on the face. So much that there is not a single graphical browser in OpenBSD. So you understand what I mean.

There are some gratuituous advantages OpenBSD enjoys over FreeBSD. FreeBSD is massive, both kernel and userland and OpenBSD is at the other end of the spectrum. Moreover there is some similarity owing to the common ancestor BSD.

This makes OpenBSD the ideal choice for firewalls, routers and network edge equipment and also for embedded systems where user interaction is not involved. It is also a very portable OS.

The fact that OpenBSD is the most secure OS in the world doesn't really matter much to me in spite of me being a cryptographer because I am not forced to use OpenBSD for its security features as they are quickly copied into other operating systems.

I use it mainly because I want to develop some crypto code and also because sometimes I don't want the bloat of FreeBSD or linux.

Now that brings us to the question of why OpenBSD and why not NetBSD?

For that you have to read my NetBSD review.

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OpenBSD 2.7